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Demon barber gets his due in razor-sharp `Sweeney Todd'.

Byline: Paul Kolas

COLUMN: THEATER REVIEW

WORCESTER - Ah, what a gloriously vindictive and perverse masterpiece Sondheim and Wheeler's "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" is.

Who can resist "attending the tale" of the barber wrongfully cast into imprisoned exile by the nefarious judge coveting his wife, and the ghoulishly sweet revenge that unfolds upon his return?

It's an illicit pleasure that, like Mrs. Lovett's pies, can be served up in any number of ways: as an expansively spectacular Dickensian slide show or a more intimate chamber of horrors.

Set designer Mark Goodney uses the latter option to exploit every nook and cranny of Worcester County Light Opera Company's modestly proportioned stage to create a Victorian London flowing with sinister intrigue. Sweeney Todd's fiendishly employed barber chair looms nastily in its shuttered alcove above Mrs. Lovett's pie shop, while Todd's daughter sings plaintively from a smartly constructed barred window representing Mr. Fogg's insane asylum. Goodney's handiwork is a triumph of utilization.

Friday evening's emphatically performed production handled Sondheim's exquisite score with generally adroit precision. It's worth noting that Mary Finn, as the understudy for the role of Mrs. Lovett, had to replace Jane Grady on short notice, and to coin that well-worn phrase, rises to the occasion. She not only physically reminds you of Angela Lansbury, who originally played the part on Broadway, but interprets Mrs. Lovett with the same sort of creepy matronly sensuality. There are moments when her voice wobbles slightly on some of the first act songs ("The Worst Pies in London" or "Wait"), but her singing is steadier by the time she and Todd ponder a future "By the Sea." And she handles the written dialogue with cheeky assurance.

Ed Savage may not be the most menacing Sweeney Todd ever to grace the stage, and his otherwise commendable singing is barely above a sneering whisper in the lower registers, but he captures Todd's torment and ravaged spirit with unflagging intensity. There's a satisfying alchemy between Savage and Finn throughout the show. One feels a tingling vicarious complicity in their evil deeds as they perform splendidly on the outrageously witty "A Little Priest."

The supporting cast knows what a delicate souffle the music and lyrics are here, and that exactitude is required to blend the unique clash of dissonance and harmony with success. Aided by Barbara Weihrauch's propelling direction and Jeff Williams' finely executed musical support, most everyone vividly enacts and sings their parts. Shonna McEachern, as Todd's daughter Johanna, sings "Green Finch & Linnet Bird" and "Kiss Me" with lovely authority.

Kirk Hornberger plays her sailor boy love interest, Anthony, with the dazed and goofy charm the role calls for. Chuck Grigaitis and Eric Dwinnell make a truly despicable pair as Judge Turpin and his bullying aide Beadle, lacing "Ladies In Their Sensitivities" with acrid wit.

Sal Luco is a riotous scene stealer as the rival barber Pirelli and Tyson Funk is wonderfully affecting as his servant Tobias. As pretty a song as "Johanna" is, Funk's rendition of "Not While I'm Around" trumps it for pure emotion. Rachel Bobkowski scampers around the stage with tattered ferocity as the Beggar Woman.

The ensemble cast lends resonant support to a production nearly as sharp and shining as Sweeney Todd's straight razor.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

* * *-1/2

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler, from an adaptation by Christopher Bond. Stage direction by Barbara Weihrauch, musical direction by Jeff Williams Presented by Worcester County Light Opera Company at the Playhouse, 21 Grandview Ave., Worcester. Performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 2pm, Sundays at 2pm, through April 29. Tickets: $18. Group rates available for 20 or more.

Call (508)753-4383 for reservations or visit www.wcloc.com
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Title Annotation:ENTERTAINMENT
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 18, 2007
Words:625
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